The Corner

Health Care

National Council on Disability Decries Hickson Death

Medical workers prepare to intubate a coronavirus patient at the United Memorial Medical Center’s intensive care unit in Houston, Texas, June 29, 2020. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

Michael Hickson died after being refused potential curative treatment for COVID and being shuttled to hospice instead because — as a quadriplegic and cognitively disabled man — his doctor said he had an insufficient “quality of life” to save him, and that such care would not ameliorate his underlying disabilities. Here is Mairead McArdle’s reporting on the case.

Now, the National Council on Disability has issued a statement decrying the invidious discrimination evident in Hickson’s mistreatment:

The National Council on Disability (NCD) is shocked and saddened by the unnecessary death of Michael Hickson, 46 years old, on June 11, 2020. Mr. Hickson’s death resulted from a hospital’s refusal to provide him with life-saving care for COVID-19 and withholding nutrition and hydration. News coverage includes a recorded conversation between Melissa Hickson, Mr. Hickson’s wife, and a doctor at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, where he informed her that the hospital would not provide her husband with medical treatment because it deemed Mr. Hickson to have a low quality of life due to his pre-existing quadriplegia and head injury.

NCD denounces this denial of life-saving care. The presence of a disability does not lessen a person’s value, nor should it warrant a person’s abandonment by the medical facilities they rely on for care.

It’s possible that the hospital or doctor in question could be in some trouble:

When a medical facility makes a decision to deny medical care to a person with a disability that is based on, or influenced by, biased views about life with a disability, it runs afoul of federal civil rights laws. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) made this clear in its bulletin of March 28, 2020, on the civil rights obligations of healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bulletin details medical facilities’ responsibilities for non-discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws and states that treatment decisions must be made consistent with federal law, based on an individualized assessment of the patient using objective medical evidence, and not influenced by stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative “worth” based on the presence or absence of disabilities.

NCD asks that OCR investigate the apparent violation of Mr. Hickson’s civil rights which resulted in his death.

If you want to hear the doctor telling Melissa Hickson, in a recording she made of the conversation, that her husband’s life will not be saved because he is disabled, hit this link.

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